8 And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, "Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!"
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this child; 18 and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Meditation: In the Roman empire censuses were taken every fourteen years for assessing taxation and ascertaining who were elgible for compulsory military service. Joseph and Mary traveled eighty miles from Nazareth to Bethelem. This was a most inconvenient time and a physical ordeal for Mary since her baby was due any day now! And as luck would have it, Bethelehem was overcrowded. They had to settle for the most primitive of accomodations -- an open stall for animals. Why would the Messiah have to be born in such pitiable conditions and in total obscurity? God's ways are different from our ways. He, the Most Exalted One, condescends for the sake of the lowly and the opprest. The Lord descended not in pomp and majesty befitting a King, but in meekness and lowliness to show us the way of perfect love. The only room for Jesus was the cross he came to bear for our sins. In Jesus lowly birth we see the foreshadowing of the greatest sacrifice God would make for our sake when his only begotten Son willingly embraced death on the cross for our salvation.
Mary and Joseph were both from the line of David, King of Israel. Jesus's birth in Bethelem fulfilled the prophecy that the Messiah would descend from David and be born in David's city, Bethelem (Isaiah 9:6-7, 11:1-2; Micah 5:2-4). Why did the angels announce the birth of the new-born King of Israel to shepherds, rather than to the Jewish populace at large or to the leaders of Israel? God chose to come in lowliness to show his loving-kindness and power to those who were humble of heart and ready to receive him. Does the Lord find an eager welcome in your heart and home?
Why did the Word of God become flesh? In the Creed we profess that "For our sake and for our salvation he came down from heaven". Augustine, the great 4th century bishop said: Closed in darkness, it was necessary to bring us the light; captives, we awaited a Savior; prisoners, help; slaves, a liberator. Are these things minor or insignificant? Did they not move God to descend to human nature and visit it, since humanity was in so miserable and unhappy a state? Jesus is true God and true man. The Son of God assumed a human nature in order to accomplish our salvation in it. The Son of God ...worked with human hands; he thought with a human mind. He acted with a human will, and with a human heart he loved. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like to us in all things except sin (Gaudium et Spes).
What is the significance of the Incarnation for us? The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God our Father. God loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins (1 John 4:10). The Father sent his Son as the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14). The Word appeared to take away sins (1 John 3:5). The Word became flesh that we might know and experience the love of God. God's love was revealed to us in the way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him (1 John 4:9). For God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
There is a great paradox in the mystery of the Incarnation, the Son of God taking on human flesh that we might be clothed in his divinity. Scripture says "he became poor that we might become rich" (2 Cor. 8:9) -- rich not in material things which pass away, but rich in the things that last -- eternal life and happiness with the Triune God-- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Incarnation is the mystery of this marvelous exchange: "O marvelous exchange! Man's Creator has become man, born of the Virgin. We have been made sharers in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share our humanity." (Antiphon I of Evening Prayer for January 1st)
"Lord our God, with the birth of your Son, your glory breaks on the
world. As we celebrate his first coming, give us a foretaste of the joy
that you will grant us when the fulness of his glory has filled the earth."